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Dave Thomas | profile | all galleries >> Out and About in Southeastern PA >> Union Canal Tunnel Park tree view | thumbnails | slideshow

Union Canal Tunnel Park

On the western outskirts of Lebanon, PA we find some restored remains of the Union Canal that date
back to the early 19th century.

The Union Canal was a successor to an earlier attempt in the late 1700s to build a canal from the
Schuylkill River at Reading to Middletown on the Susquehanna as a means to exchange goods from the
central and eastern parts of the state. The canal was surveyed in 1762 and 1770. The project was
reorganized in 1811 as the Union Canal Company and completed in 1828. In 1832 a spur was completed
to Pine Grove to provide water for the main canal and a route to transport anthracite coal.

In the 1850s, the 102 locks were enlarged to permit the larger canal boats used on the Schuylkill Canal
and Pennsylvania Canal to fit. Severe damage was done to the system by a flood in June 1862. Ongoing
water supply problems and damage repair, coupled with competition from the Lebanon Valley Railroad (1857)
finally resulted in closing the canal in 1885.

Outside of Lebanon, the canal tunneled through a ridge between the Quittapahilla Creek and Clark's Run.
This tunnel is the oldest existing transportation tunnel in the United States, completed in June 1827.
The tunnel bored 729 feet through argyllaceous slate rock with veins of hard flinty limestone. Drilling
was done by hand, using black powder for blasting. Progress was about five lineal yards per week,
manpower supplied mostly by Irish immigrants. The tunnel was originally 18 feet wide and 15 feet high.
In operation, boats were poled through the tunnel by pushing against the rock ceiling, while the towing
mules were walked over the ridge on a trail.

The tunnel was heightened and shorten to about 600 feet during the canal enlargement in 1858.
The tunnel was designated a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 1970 and a National
Historic Landmark in 1994. It has recently had extensive restoration to shore up embankments and
make the tunnel passable. A very nice day use park with plantings and picnic tables now surrounds
both tunnel portals and provides enough filled canal to provide boat rides. The Lebanon County
Historical Society
runs boat rides two Sundays a month and on certain moonlit nights during the summer.

For more info, try this Tourism Website.

Planting and Marker
Planting and Marker
Union Canal at Tunnel Park.
Union Canal at Tunnel Park.
Union Canal
Union Canal
Picnic Area
Picnic Area
Tunnel South End
Tunnel South End
Looking Thru
Looking Thru
The Ridge
The Ridge
South Portal
South Portal
Across South Retaining Walls
Across South Retaining Walls
Looking South from Wall
Looking South from Wall
North Park Entrance
North Park Entrance
Barn Next to Park
Barn Next to Park
Farm across Canal
Farm across Canal
North from Ridge
North from Ridge
North Portal
North Portal
Ridge View - North Side
Ridge View - North Side
Canal North from Ridge
Canal North from Ridge
North Portal
North Portal
Paddling Through
Paddling Through
Canal North/West
Canal North/West